I had posted the following (below) on another potters-specific forum in response to a couple of questions people there had about the "imperfect" forms that seem to pervade much of Japanese ceramics and also how Raku wares and Tea Ceremony are connected. I thought some here might also find it of interest. So here is a copy of the posting:
As a matter of fact, I am doing the keynote lecture at the New Hampshire Art Educators Association annual meeting that is being held at the Currier Museum of Art ( http://www.currier.org/nowonview.aspx
) that is being held in conjunction with the"Lethal Beauty" exhibition there of Samurai period weapons, armor, and other artwork. A good part of this presentation will tend to focus on this very subject, as I tie together the centuries and centuries of the martial state and civil strife with the development of the arts of the period.....particularly ceramics.
It takes a semester-long 3 credit BFA art history course (History of Japanese Ceramics
) for me to actually trace the development and evolution of the Japanese ceramic arts from the proto-Jomon period to contemporary work, and the impact that the Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu) had in the midst of this development cannot really be understated. The evolving nature of Chado (The Way of Tea) in Japan had a profound impact on the broader cultural tastes in pretty much all of the arts, not just ceramics. However, because of the pre-eminent role that ceramic objects had (have) in Chanoyu, particularly the Chaire (Tea Caddy) and Chawan (Tea Bowl), the art of ceramics was profoundly impacted by the changes in "tastes" in what was (and still is) considered "proper" Teawares (Chadogu).
The short story (yeah,….this is the really short version) on the connection between Raku and Tea...................
In the time leading up to what we might think of as the current "modern" tea aesthetics, the various Daimiyo (Feudal Lords) were pretty much in a constant state of civil warfare and were vying for political power and position. Really,from the beginning of the Yayoi Period (400 BCE) with the influx of new iron weapon wielding peoples into Japan supplanting the old culture, through the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 cementing the relatively peaceful Tokugawa Shogunate….. Japan was in a constant state of overt civil war and under what amounted to martial law (or even what might be called anarchy). Basically 2000 years of civil strife! That fact had a PROFOUND impact on Japanese cultural development that affects the underpinnings of Japanese culture even to this day.
By the 1580s an upwardly mobile guy named Hashiba Hideyoshi had risen from a simple warlord’s servant to Samurai warrior to General in Oda Nobonaga’s armies, to finally THE leading power figure (not Shogun….but Kampaku) in Feudal Japan who had more or less "unified" Japan (not completely... but that is the kind of material for the undergrad course).
Eventually Hashiba was given the Samurai-class family name of Toyotomi……. the name most know him by today. Once this happened, he “slammed the door” on anyone following in his footsteps… making it unlawful (impossible) for a commoner to become a Samurai anymore, and also outlawed commoners from bearing swords (or any weapons). In this, he basically finalized the developing formalized Class distinctions of Japan sitting below the Imperial House……. Samurai, Peasant, Artisan, and Merchant…. and above the Eta (“untouchables”).
Since the Imperial House was basically a puppet figurehead of the State at the total mercy of the Samurai, the Samurai ruled the land in the name of the Emperor.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was known for wanting to put his poor commoner (non-Samurai class) origins behind him and, once rich and in power, he was prone to totally ostentatious displays of wealth. He was always trying to show how powerful and cultured he was to everyone around him..... particularly the rival Daimiyo. His, and hence others in powerful positions, approach to Chanoyu was to use the most precious and opulent settings and utensils possible. It was all about “showing off”.
His Chado mentor/teacher was a particular chajin (Teaman) known as Sen no Rikkyu, who was a student of another great Teaman of the period, Takeno Joo. Takeno and Rikkyu both found the ostentatious tea gatherings of Hideyoshi and his cohorts and the use of absurdly expensive Chadogu to be very much an "affected"stance, and in Joo’s and Rikkyu's opinion, unbefitting the Zen roots of a lot of the developing Tea Ceremony philosophy. The “peak” of this pretentious craziness was the Kitano Ochanoyu, or “The Great Tea Ceremony at Kitano” in 1585.
So as a reaction to all of this grandiose posturing of the Daimiyo with all their finest imported Chinese Chadogu and solid gold objects and tea rooms, Rikkyu started to promote the use of more "everyday" common and rustic objects as THE proper way to select the settings for Tea and the objects used in the Ceremony. It was a turn of the viewpoint to the internal, both in the view toward the value of traditional Japanese-produced objects, as well as a focus toward the more spiritual (but still actually non-religious) aspects of a tea experience. He moved Tea away from a outwardly focused “posturing”approach, and toward a “interpersonal relations” and “being totally in the moment” approach. A move from extroversion toward introversion.
In addition to being a Tea Master, Rikkyu also eventually became a "designer". He began to not only select and promote objects that he thought were superior Chadogu....... he also began to make some objects and also commission pieces to be made to fit his tastes and ideas. His views at this time had a profound impact on the nature of Chanoyu. Tearooms shrank in size from HUGE halls in elaborate Daimyo castles to specially constructed rooms that were based upon commoner’s huts (but still constructed with the utmost in craftsmanship considerations). Rikkyu greatly favored things like the common cheap rice bowls found in Korea for use as Chawan.
Rikkyu approached a roof tile maker in the Kyoto area who made some of the rooftiles for Hideyoshi’s castle, and had him produce a new type of Chawan specifically to his specifications. Roof tiles in Japan at that time were hand-builtand the ridge-line tiles and eaves tiles were often highly sculptural figurative works featuring Shinto and Buddhist dieties and icons. Chojiro’s father had emigrated to Japan from China, and he was a Sancai (Japanese….sansai ……three color lead glazed earthenware) potter. So the lead glazing and earthenware firing process were well known to Chojiro before he produced the new style of Chawan for Rikkyu.
In a sense, while he worked with clay, Chojiro was really a sculptor, not a potter. So this tilemaker, Chojiro, was very familiar with hand-building and sculptural techniques…..one of which is carving and modeling work from clay. So it would seem that a “comfortable” forming technique for Chojiro to make these new bowls for Rikkyu would naturally tend toward the basic forming by modeling the rough shape of the bowl…. what we’d maybe call pinching a basic thick form…….. and then further refining by carving the thick form into the very light weight piece necessary for proper Chanoyu. That is the core technique for forming a Raku Chawan.
The tea wares made by Chojiro were, to Rikkyu’s specifications, very quiet and unassuming. Deliberately rustic by design. The very lowly low-fire earthenware process moved these pieces far away from the Chinese wares formerly in favor of the various Daimyo and developing upper-crust Merchant class of the time. Yet within their seeming simplicity at first glance, upon careful inspection, the variations caused by the hand carving forming process and the simple primitive firing process caused subtle variations in the form and glaze surface that could take many viewings to really understand. This type of object fitted the contemplative aspects of Rikkyu’s new Chado focus well.
Originally this work was called Ima-yaki (“now pottery”) ….because it was something totally new. But because of the great reception given to these sculpted earthenware bowls lauded on them from Rikkyu and his many followers, Hideyoshi soon granted Chojiro the use of the characterfor “leisure” or “contentment” as a designation for the new types of wares he produced and also as a family name ( 楽). That character is pronounced “raku”, and was a part of the formal name of Hideyoshi’s castle, Jurakudai Palace. That Raku family name and ware type has now passed down unbroken for 14 generations.
Joo, Rikkyu, and Chojiro’s ideas and work in the mid to late 1500s are the advent of the teaware (and other artwork) tastes that are known today as “wabi-sabi”, and the Tea Ceremonies based upon its tenets known as“Wabi-cha” or sometimes “Sooan-cha”. Wabi-sabi is the finding of deep beauty in the inherent and inexorable deterioration of time on absolutely everything and the formal appreciation of the rustic, unrefined,and imperfect.
This aesthetic approach has pervaded much of Japanese ceramics from the Momoyama Period until today, and hence the focus onthe “imperfect”, the asymmetrical, the unassuming, and the unrefined forms one finds in many ceramic pieces since that time and even today. Materiality figures in here heavily also; ceramic material exhibiting the genesis of earth and fire working naturally together. The wabi-sabi aesthetic greatly fits a world-view born of centuries of warfare, sudden violent death, the Samurai’s fatalism, and a formal Shinto religious background that focuses on the natural events in the world (in Japan….typhoons, earthquakes, and fires), and the Buddhist belief that desire is the root of human suffering.
Hideyoshi was the warlord that ordered his vassal Daimyo to invade Korea (and then his plan was to also take over China). Aside from grandiose attempts at power, this plan was also devised to cause the various warlords “under” his rule to be tied up financially and to have their troops occupied elsewhere…. thereby minimizing the threat to his own power from any plots that might hatch against him. This was the time also known as “The Pottery Wars” …when Hideoshi’s generals captured whole villages of Korean potters and brought them back to Japan to create “traditional” Korean wares for Chanoyu use. Many of these potters founded the Kyushu and southern Honshu potteries that have great favor today …. like Hagi and Karatsu.
Eventually (1591) Hideyoshi ordered Sen no Rikkyu to commit seppuku (hara kiri …. stomach cutting…….. the Samurai’s ritual suicide method). A death with Samurai honors…. but a death nonetheless. No one knows for sure why……… there are no good documents that reveal the facts behind it. But likely it was because Sen was gaining political power and influence that threatened Hideyoshi in some manner. Tea Ceremony was a powerful cultural practice that extended throughout all of upper Japanese society at that time both within the Samurai class and also the developing and powerfully rich Merchant class that had strong ties into the “Southern Barbarians” (Nanban….. the Westerners who had started trade with Japan). And one has to wonder if Rikku’s focus on the “common” types of objects and setting was a bit of a sore point between the former commoner warlord and his Tea Master. Hideyoshi wanted nothing to do with an association with “common-ness”.
Japanese history is deep. Tradition being a very powerful force in Japan to this day, the traditions developed in the mid 1500s continue to influence Chanoyu and other aspects of Japanese culture and artwork. The three major schools of tea (Chado) in the world today, Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke, trace their roots directly back to Sen no Rikkyu himself. The most prized native origin teabowls for Chanoyu continue to be Raku wares, which command pretty astronomical prices.
Hope that helps to put things into some context for you.
(Gonna’ put a >>> © 2013- john Baymore all rights reserved <<<<<on this posting…..might use some of it somewhere later.)
So....... hopefully that info is of interest to some TeaChatters too.